For the Boys Blogathon: Buddies Forever!
Note: You will NOT see the word “Bromance” mentioned in this post. I find it to be the most ridiculous term ever. I will also go on record to say that I strongly dislike “Chick-flick”, “Bromcom”, “Romcom”. You will see the words “man”, “manly” and “dude” maybe even “dudely.”
Ah, the buddy flick. Two guys (sometimes more) out to take on the world. It doesn’t matter when, where, and how their journey takes place, it’s about their friendship and how they deal with adversity and triumph. Women may come and go, and there may even be a fight between them over the same woman. Yet almost always, the friendship will prevail–even in death. Using the mechanism of the buddy film, Hollywood is able to appeal to men’s emotional side. In classic film, a vast majority of the buddy films appear to be dramas. In the gangster genre I immediately think of James Cagney and Pat O’Brien. These two were close friends in real life, and although they made all kinds of films (and frequently collaborated Frank McHugh, another close pal), I always think of their roles in Angels with Dirty Faces. Another pairing is that of William Powell and Clark Gable. Theirs was in Manhattan Melodrama, one of my favorites, and a similar story line to that of Angels with Dirty Faces: two young friends grow up together on the wrong side of the tracks. One makes it to the right side and lives an honorable and decent life, while the other continues in a life of crime. Despite their differences, they remain friends and can always pick up where they left off.
In the action/adventure genre there is only one teaming that comes to mind: Errol Flynn and Alan Hale. Although Hale was very much a supporting character to Flynn’s leading roles, it’s hard to think of one without the other. Flynn is charming and handsome, and Hale is the sidekick with all the funny quips. They get along so well because there is no competition over women. They each know their place and are friends until the very end. There are some classic comedies with best pals. First are the Road pictures starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. In the silent era, Buster Keaton and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle made quite the team. Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, The Marx Brothers are all perfect examples. There are even buddies in musicals, with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra starring in three films (Anchors Aweigh, On the Town, and Take Me Out to the Ballgame) immediately coming to mind.
Of all the genres, the two that are the fullest of testosterone and strong male friendships, are war stories and westerns. From Battleground to Ride the High Country, these films always feature two friends dealing with the toughest of circumstances.
In the 1980′s and early 1990′s, theaters were inundated with action-packed, testosterone-fueled BFF adventures: 48 Hours, Beverly Hills Cop, Lethal Weapon, and their respective sequels (and threequels and fourquels). These films definitely appealed to a very male audience, but frequently cast the current luscious beefcake to help draw in the ladies. At the time many of these films were considered edgy. By today’s standards, the “raunchy” language of 1980s Eddie Murphy is a distant memory (after all, he is Donkey, Doctor Dolittle and runs Daddy Day Care…oh and he occasionally gives car rides to needy transvestite hookers). In recent years the buddy flick has become an exposition for the raunchiest language, random and pointless nudity (each film appears to compete for the most hideous nude scene or most graphic discussions about bodily functions), and general caveman-like behavior. Their masculinity is worn not on their sleeve, but on a t-shirt three sizes too small and positioned squarely on their chest. Underneath is a tagline that says “I love boobies and I’m absolutely and positively NOT GAY!.” Some of these newer films are quite funny, despite their overt attempts at pure manly manliness (I give Judd Apatow a lot of credit because his films have heart, sometimes too much. They also appear to be a little insecure about acknowledging love between two friends, re: constant gay jokes).
Going back to classics, I have to admit that I love a lot of the “manly” genres. Some of my favorite films feature two male friends. Sure there might be a love interest, but the friendship is always a main attraction. When thinking about the films for this blogathon, I turned to my husband. The two of us compared our list of quintessential male buddy films and we had a lot of duplicates. However, he had several listed that I did not consider. A few of them are highlighted below.
Cool Hand Luke
My husband is very adamant over Cool Hand Luke being the essential buddy flick. There are no women (unless you consider the big bosomed car wash lady), thus no traditional romance. The “romance” is between the two main characters Luke (Paul Newman) and Dragline (George Kennedy). It is Luke’s strength and determination (and Messiah-like presence) to find a way out that has Dragline and the whole chain gang admiring him. Dragline’s devotion to Luke is so strong and he risks his life just to be around him. Call it hero worship. They are a mismatched duo, but they have each other’s back right to the end. No women, no fortune, no prospects– just brought together by incredibly horrendous circumstances. How does Cool Hand Luke appeal to women? I don’t think I should have to answer that one.
I have to admit that George Stevens’s classic is one of my all time favorites. In my opinion it is one of the greatest action/adventure films ever made. The friendship between Cutter (Cary Grant), MacChesney (Victor McLaglen), and Ballantine (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) is unwavering. That’s not to say they do not have their differences. Cutter is a bit of a handful with his pipe dreams about finding hidden treasures and golden palaces, and often agitates his comrades. MacChesney is the highest ranked officer of the trio and tries to maintain straight military protocol. Ballantine struggles over starting his life with the woman he loves, or continuing the adventures with his best friends. In addition to the strong friendship between the three, Cutter forms an unlikely bond with the regiment’s water boy, Gunga Din (Sam Jaffe). The two have a mutual admiration and both set out to find their fortunes. Although there is a female character, Ballantine’s fiancee Emmy (Joan Fontaine), she is negatively portrayed as needy and generally whiny. Not great for female viewers, but it helps reinforce the unbreakable bond between the best friends. Despite this, I still love the story and the main characters. Although it ends on a bittersweet note, Gunga Din is also quite a funny film at times.
I realize that Blazing Saddles does not fall under the traditional “classic film” label because it was made after the 1969 cut-off, but it would be flat out wrong to dismiss it strictly based on when it was made. Mel Brooks is a master and Blazing Saddles is his finest masterpiece. Sure it is off-color at times, but it all comes from a good place. Brooks took the typical western (and the musical) and turned it upside down. The Ballad of Rock Ridge is a parody of the main theme in the film High Noon, Madeline Kahn is in full Marlene Dietrich mode with her stage performances, and the hero is…black. Whoa! A western with a black hero? And his sidekick is white? Obviously this arrangement makes way for a endless amount of jokes, but also serves as a commentary on racism. Sheriff Bart (Cleavon Little) and Jim (Gene Wilder) form a fast friendship. They are both social outcasts– Bart because he is black, and Jim because he’s a drunk, and fallen from his glory days as sharpshooter The Waco Kid. The pair team up to save the town of Rock Ridge against the evil forces of Hedley “That’s Hed-ley” Lamarr (Harvey Korman). Underneath the sometimes gross humor (the farting scene) and colorful language, is a story about two best friends…who ride into the sunset not on their horses, but in a limousine.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
For my husband, Cool Hand Luke is the ultimate buddy film. For me, I look no further than Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. From start to tragic finish, it is a beautiful film. Butch (Paul Newman) and Sundance (Robert Redford) rob trains and banks. They are really good at it too. Although criminals, they are loved from the first moment. The two are partners through and through right until the bloody end. Butch and Sundance are truly living an outlaw’s life, but having loads of fun in the process. They are also fortunate enough to keep company with the beautiful Etta Place (Katharine Ross), who loves them both. She teaches them manners and Spanish, and goes along with their schemes for a time. She doesn’t overstay her welcome though. This is one of the few male geared films that has a positive female role.
Only Angels Have Wings
Although heavy on the adventure and romance, Only Angels Have Wings features a strong friendship between two men: Geoff Carter (Cary Grant) and Kid Dabb (Thomas Mitchell) and they absolutely adore one another. Each would walk through fire for the other, and both value honesty, even when the truth hurts. Geoff has his problems with commitment to women, although Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur) is making quite the impression. When Geoff grounds Kid from flying, the decision is not an easy one. Geoff knows how much it bruises Kid’s ego, but it’s the right decision to keep everyone safe. That is what a true friend does– makes a hard decision to save a life, even if it damages the friendship.
There are several more films that need an honorable mention. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is the ultimate buddy epic. Two best friends, Frodo and Sam literally going to the ends of the earth knowing they may never make it back. Not only do they have each other, but they have the support of many others from their original band of brothers. The Big Lebowski features two friends (three if you count poor Donny) that couldn’t be more different. The Dude (Jeff Bridges) is a burned out hippie who lives for bowling, Creedence, White Russians, and his rug (which really tied the room together). Walter (John Goodman) is a Vietnam vet with major anger issues, who often babysits his ex-wife’s dog (“It’s a f*cking show dog with f*cking papers”). This mismatched duo, with their sad little friend Donny, encounter the most bizarre of situations. Although The Dude is often disgusted with Walter’s behavior, he ultimately enjoys his company.
To close out this entry on a testosterone fueled note, here are BFF’s Roddy Piper and Keith David beating the shit out of each other.
Note: The video features fantastic shit-kickery and some bad language, so don’t watch at work, church, or around the kiddies.
“Either put on these glasses, or start eating that trash can.”
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Jill Blake is the owner/managing editor of the classic film website Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence. She is also a co-founder and editor of the film site The Moviola and film editor at CC2K. In 2012, she was interviewed on-air by Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz. In 2013, she was a featured guest on the TCM podcast. In her spare time Jill is a stay-at-home mom, wife, fried okra connoisseur, and the neighborhood’s own L.B. Jeffries.